Writings and observations


A GOV CANDIDATE With the presumption that Oregon Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber will be seeking re-election next year, and the high improbability of serious primary opposition, the question has been floating in the air for a while: Who’s his Republican opponent? Well, one has surfaced: Jon Justesen, a rancher from small Sherman County whose political experience consists of losing a county commission race there. He’s first in, but don’t expect he’ll be the last: He’s pro-choice and pro-immigrant and pro-sales tax. This may be an indicator, though, of how difficult Republicans will find corralling a truly credible challenger.

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First Take

carlson CHRIS


Every so often my publisher walks up to me with a challenge to get beyond blanket criticisms and propose constructive alternatives that will help resolve a contested matter. So it was with the so-called Luna Laws, all of which were criticized harshly by many writers as well as me.

As the son of two public school teachers, I have some opinions but by no means am I claiming to be an expert on educational reform.

The following reflects the Ten Carlson Rules for producing better Students:

Rule #1) Instill a writing discipline, starting in the 1st Grade. A student should have to write something each day. First graders have to write a sentence; sixth graders a paragraph; seventh and above a page a day.
a. Write, write, write—-there is no substitute.
b. Keep a daily diary.
c. Write complete sentences—no short cuts!

Rule #2) No cell phones, ipads, etc. should be permitted during the school day. It’s not just that they facilitate distracting behavior; it’s that they encourage the use of texting, which with all its abbreviations is going to be
the death of the English language yet. All parents should examine their kids text messages and odds are they will need an interpretation or a “texting” dictionary. The phones should be surrendered at the door of the school and returned at the end of the day.

Rule #3) From the 7th Grade on students should be part of a teacher’s evaluation. Students have a fair idea which teachers care and which are really teaching. Conversely, the proposed Luna law requirement that parents be part of the evaluation process should be dropped. Far too many parents
either don’t care or simply don’t have the time. To make them a mandatory part of a teacher’s evaluation would be counter-productive in many cases.

Rule #4) Better define the Core Body of Knowledge. As the nation shifts to more and more national standardized testing, in fairness to the student as well as parents wishing to help, the education establishment has to reach a consensus on what constitutes the Core that has to be mastered.

Rule #5) Incentivize extra-curricular reading of newspapers, periodicals and news magazines. Let students know they can boost a grade by extra reading with weekly testing to confirm they’ve done the reading. But read, read, read! College recruiters still will tell you that one of the sure-fired indicators of a high student who will do well at college is whether they read news periodicals as well as good books. Ivy League recruiters especially look for the student that reads the dictionary in their spare time.

Rule #6) Move away from the time-oriented credit system to a performance-based system grounded in the national standards for what constitutes the required Core Body of Knowledge to be mastered before they can graduate.
a. Adopt “flexible” learning time based on the individual student’s progress. This may mean some students have to attend school year round while others can still have the summer months off.
b. Increase the length of the school year but shorten the school day, regardless.

Rule #7) Require students to work with counselors and teachers to develop an annual Planned Path to Mastery of the Core Body of Knowledge and require a semi-annual review of the plan with necessary adaptations to reflect circumstances – adaptive management if you will.

Rule #8) Provide credit for “real world” experiences subject to review and approval by teachers and local school board. If a student travels to Scotland for two weeks during the summer, or is a counselor at a summer camp, or works in a hardware store there ought to be a way to award a few credits to reflect a different but still valuable form of learning.

Rule #9) Allow one on-line learning class for credit per semester, but one that is carefully monitored and has been pre-approved and one that has on-line tests along the way.

Rule #10) Every student regardless of where or how they are schooled will be required to take annually the national standardized test of the Core Body of Knowledge. No exceptions for home schooled, charter schooled or privately schooled.

These are ten simple, easily doable rules—wouldn’t you agree?

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rainey BARRETT


If pressed for the most apt definition of the word “contradiction,” there’s no better one in our times than the Republican far right. What passes for philosophy with too many denizens of that political swamp is espousing one set of ideals while working feverishly against them – wrapping oneself in the law and our founding documents while deliberately attacking both.

For many years, the clearest example of these philosophical cheap shots have been ceaseless attacks on women and the extremely personal topic of abortion. While decrying the intrusion of all forms of government in our private lives, these same voices have demanded an agency of government be represented in gynecological examining rooms where only physicians and their patients belong. To be in the home as a family struggles with intimate – and completely private – decisions. The total contrariness of that position is a hallmark of the far right.

Likewise, voting rights. The assurance of the individual franchise – guaranteed since our beginnings – has become another example of complete contradiction with a sizeable portion of the Republican right. More than a dozen states under GOP political control have tried to legislatively abridge voting access for all but themselves. Some have done so with new laws sure to be challenged. Several bills have even been introduced in Congress to do the same. While loudly proclaiming the polling privilege as “the cornerstone of our liberties,” some of the same voices have been attempting to exclude Americans who don’t “think” as they do. Or have a different skin color.

Now comes religion – the newest outright challenge to a most basic right granted to all of us in the Bill of Rights. The prohibition can’t be clearer:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

In North Carolina – where Republicans control the legislature – one of their number dropped a bill in the House basket to “establish Christianity as the state religion.” While a number of Republicans signed on as co-sponsors, the Speaker of the House stopped formal introduction. This time.

So, were these GOPers just a few nuts? Will we see similar attempts elsewhere? Is there a constituency for this abortive – and patently illegal – challenge to our Bill of Rights? One answer may surprise you. A new national HuffingtonPost/YouGov poll found 34% sampled favored establishing Christianity as the official state religion where they lived. Among those who called themselves Republican, the total was 55%. More than half! In another finding, 46% of Republicans supported officially changing our federal Constitution to allow it.

These are just three examples of voices fanatically claiming undying support for our Founding Fathers and their legal handiwork while trying to violate it. In some states, where Republicans control legislative affairs, you can bet they’re going to keep at it. The evidence continues to come in.

The voting issue, for example. Several states have cut voting hours, reduced the number of polling places, shorted the time to register or stopped same-day registration. Some even argued at the U.S. Supreme Court that they should be released from restrictions placed on them a few decades ago by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Their claim? “Well, maybe we were bad guys back then but we’ve changed.” The Justices are currently mulling over that argument. Given the several recent Republican state efforts outlined above, how would you decide?

Another destructive facet of Republican nut world is a threat to the “united” in United States. Take establishing a religion. The “thinking” in North Carolina is, since the federal Constitution stops Congress from creating a national religion, nothing should prevent creating one by a state. Likewise, since Congress won’t act to stop abortions nationally, they’ll just do it in the state. Voting rights? “We’ll do it ourselves, thank you very much.”

So, we see a developing patchwork of issues illegal in all states being established in some. What’s not allowed federally is being tried state by state. Idaho and Utah are two attempting to disassociate themselves in several ways from the federal government. Both want to take title to all federally owned lands within their borders. Neither state could afford to be a good steward of all that property. It won’t happen. But they keep trying.

It’s all part of this “nullification” business. The GOP far right is trying to separate some states the party controls politically from union with the others on specific issues. Most constitutional scholars think the Civil War settled that subject. The problem is many of those reviving the arguments either have not read the Constitution or the Bill of Rights they swear they love or think they’re smart enough to get around 150 years of jurisprudence.

God, I hope they’re wrong!

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Idaho 100

Idaho 100: The people who most influenced the Gem State, published in print last fall, is now available in the Kindle e-book format (via Amazon.com).

The 100 entries (and the other parts of the book) are a particularly good match for an electronic reader, read in pieces at a time. Even if you already have a print copy, you’ll want the e-book too for more mobile reading options.

Keep watch for some more Idaho 100 news in the coming weeks.

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trahant MARK


President Barack Obama’s budget request for 2014 does not roll back austerity. But it would significantly shift resources, adding money to important programs, and protecting much of Indian Country from government contraction.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs budget request is $2.6 billion, an increase of $31.3 million over what Congress enacted in 2012.

“The president’s budget request for Indian Affairs reflects his firm commitment to keeping our focus on strengthening and supporting tribal nations, and protecting Indian Country,” Kevin K. Washburn, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs reported last week. “While realizing the benefits from improvements to Indian Affairs program management, the request supports our mission to federally recognized tribes, particularly in the areas of trust lands and natural resource protection. The request also promotes economic development, improves education, and strengthens law enforcement and justice administration.”

There’s a lot to like in this year’s budget request. There would be additional money for law enforcement, police, courts, and expanded domestic violence services. There would more money for trust management and real estate. And, most important, there would be additional investments in the Bureau of Indian Education (such as a $3 million scholarship fund for post-graduate education in sciences).

To my way of thinking this budget does not represent what kind of education funding is needed. Indian Country represents a young population that I think should be an essential part of balancing the country’s demographics (basically the retirement of the baby boom generation plus a longer life expectancy). But that’s a bigger issue than this budget request. (A good detailed example of this is in The Washington Post’s wonkblog where Ezra Klein writes that the federal government spends $7 on the elderly for every $1 spend on kids.)

The funding picture is similar at the Indian Health Service, basically, a request for more, even if not enough. The president’s budget calls for $4.430 billion in direct spending, and a total increase of $243.6 million over what Congress enacted in 2012. “The request includes funds to support activities identified by the tribes as budget priorities including increasing resources for pay costs, funding medical inflationary costs for the Purchased/Referred Care program (formerly known as Contract Health Services); funding contract support costs shortfall; and staffing for new/replacement facilities,” according to the budget request to Congress.

It wasn’t all that many years ago that the president’s budget request for IHS was just the beginning of the process. The appropriations committees in the House and Senate would look at the numbers, match it to the need, and in many cases find more money to spend. If it were up to the subcommittee chairs that would still happen. The legislators who are nearest the actually programs and what they do understand the challenge and look for improvements.

But the problem – and the challenge for this budget, and I suppose the next – is that Congress no longer works that way. Congress can barely assemble enough votes together to pass a continuing resolution (based on that same 2012 budget). That’s probably the course ahead again. The only good news here is that appropriation committees will have some leeway to mitigate the impact of the sequester by setting priorities. But the overall spending will be stuck on that 2012 appropriations. That effectively means more austerity and deeper budget cuts next year.

There are now three budgets that have been proposed and will be debated: One from the president, one from the Senate and one from the House. The president’s budget represents a compromise — less spending than the Senate, but way more money than the House.

But speaking for House Republicans, Indiana Rep. Jackie Walorski, said Obama’s budget “isn’t what compromise looks like.” What does compromise look like, at least from the view from the House? Even sharper budget cuts. And probably in the form of another continuing resolution.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He lives in Fort Hall, Idaho, and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. A new Facebook page has been set up at:

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idaho RANDY
The Idaho

If the poet John Donne and the novelist Ernest Hemingway were right, that “no man is an island,” that we should “send not to know/For whom the bell tolls/It tolls for thee,” then we all are damaged by the carnage at Holbrook.

The case has gotten some attention, but so horrific is it that national viral status would almost be expected. It was a case of terror on so many levels.

In Holbrook.

Probably not many Idahoans easily could place Holbrook on a map. It is located about 10 miles west of Malad, in high open field country surrounded by mountains, country well away from population centers. I have driven through it a few times, but never had occasion to stop, partly because there was nothing to stop for, no visible commercial or public activity. It once was a true small town, but not an incorporated city, something places with as few as a dozen people have founded, and for decades has been more a clustering of houses. Population for the area is reported as 400; if you drive through, you may suspect that seems high.

Such places may be remote from metro areas, but the people there are not remote from each other. This isn’t a matter of the vaunted small-town snoopiness, but the reality that with fewer people around, with fewer activities and distractions and less traffic, you see what goes on around you.

That’s part of what makes the events there so disturbing.

The people who lived at the crime scene were not entirely distant from their community. On March 31, law enforcement officials said, the people in the house that became a crime scene hosted an Easter party. (As of last week, investigators were seeking out anyone who attended.) They might have seen something reportable.

There was plenty to see. A big pack of dogs was housed there – 64 pit pulls were found there about a week ago, with clear indications that at least many of them were being used for dog fighting. That activity, thanks to a recent change in Idaho law, is now a felony, and the reasons for that are not just because of the horrific effects on the dogs: It is often a good indicator that something has gone deeply wrong with the people involved, too. That was outside the house. Inside, investigators found 38 marijuana plants and enough cash to indicate significant trafficking was underway, another indicator of trouble.

What investigators also found, when they were called to the house a week ago, was the dead bodies of a father and son (Brent L. and Trent Jon Christensen), both formerly of Brigham City, Utah, and the girlfriend of the son. Two daughters of the girlfriend, the elder being two years old, fortunately were found uninjured.

That’s how far it went before law enforcement was called in.

You can understand the holding off, the staying apart, to a point. People don’t live in places like Holbrook if they want to be in an urban center and be tightly hamstrung by social rules. People in places like that want to be left alone.

But there comes a point when intervention really is needed. Even in Holbrook.

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Idaho Idaho column

rainey BARRETT


As the U.S. Supreme Court wrestles with issues of our sexual differences and their standing in our society, I’m less worried about the ultimate decisions than I am about the connection of the Chief Justice to reality.

There can be little argument DOMA (Defense Of Marriage Act) became a law because of prejudice and bigotry. It was largely born of a narrow belief held by a religious minority which has previously sponsored similar “moral” legislation. Enactment of the California law known as “Prop 8″ came from the same despoiled garden of fear and hatred – and $28 million from the LDS Church. But remarks made by Chief Justice Roberts from the bench during arguments on the two issues seemed to reflect his mental world is one in which no law is created from any soiled motivations.

During general questioning of the DOMA case, Roberts seemed to reject the proposition that Congress could be motivated to create a law – any law – out of discrimination or animus. In fact, during discussion, he and some other Justices appeared ignorant of the roots of DOMA – until Justice Kagan read this part of the law aloud to Solicitor General Verrilli during her questioning.

“Civil laws that permit only heterosexual marriage reflect and honor a collective moral judgment about human sexuality. This judgment entails both moral disapproval of homosexuality, and a moral conviction that heterosexuality better comports with traditional (especially Judeo-Christian) morality.”

There were gasps in the room,. Then, from the Congressional Record dealing with the committee creation of DOMA, Kagan again quoted:

“…the Committee briefly discusses four of the governmental interests advanced by this legislation: (1) defending and nurturing the institution of traditional, heterosexual marriage; (2) defending traditional notions of morality.”

BOOM! Then silence in the court. After brief subsequent give-and-take between Kagan and Verrilli, Roberts simply said “Thank you” and matters moved on while other Justices wrote lengthy notes to themselves – apparently about what they’d just heard. But not Roberts.

Editor’s Note: Why did so many Justices seem surprised by what Kagan read? Had their law clerks not read all the briefs and summarized for the Court? Didn’t the Justices at least read the law before hearing arguments? Why the hurried note-taking?

Roberts’ personal and judicial history are spotless. There is no doubt of his moral and professional character. But – there is ample evidence of his seeming real world ignorance that less-than-honorable intentions can create bad law. In one case – PICS vs. Seattle School District No. 1 – he wrote “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” He basically dismissed the need for judicial action in the face of demonstrated outright discrimination. His side lost.

Four years ago, in a matter involving a Texas utility discrimination case, he wrote “Things have changed in the South.” He was attempting to argue there was no need for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Again, he was on the losing side. He said much the same thing earlier this month in yet another challenge to the same Voting Rights Act now before the Court.

We often hear of the isolation from the “real” world that comes with living and working in Washington, D.C. for very long. It’s real. I can personally attest. But to find the SCOTUS Chief Justice making repeated references to a world without bigotry, discrimination or other dishonorable motivation for many of our laws is stunning. To have to have the most damning parts of DOMA read to the Court is bad enough. But his reaction was, frankly, embarrassing and alarming. Did he do no research – no preparation?

Whether from legislative ignorance or religious zealotry, we have too many laws on the books – both state and federal – that sprang from diseased roots. The several states currently trying to savage abortion and voting rights will spend millions defending what they’ve done and likely meet with little ultimate success. Just large legal bills to be paid with tax dollars.

The Idaho Legislature has a long history of being a major drain on citizen tax receipts. Year after year, the assembled minions make runs at nullification, trying to tax the untaxable, expressing a swim-upstream mentality that nearly always ends in the legal trash can, tries to take title to all federal lands or some other doomed, cockamamie scheme. Idaho taxpayers can only look to the judicial system to keep things intact. At great expense. Years ago, the Idaho Legislature created the perpetual “Idaho Contract Attorney’s Retirement Fund.” They up the endowment each session.

Congresses – current and past – have been filled with loud, minority voices attempting to codify morality. The 50 legislatures, as well. In far too many instances, the minority has been able to prevail because the majority lacked the intellectual guts to say “NO.” When the subjects were marriage, abortion, sexual orientation or similar social “issues,” many in the majority were shamed into going along. Whether for job retention, cowardice or some other personal flaw. So our courts have spent years wading through these social “thickets” trying to separate wheat from chaff.

Which brings us back to the Chief Justice.

His indication of seeming ignorance of the roots of the DOMA case before the Court – his repeated apparent belief that laws can’t spring from deceit, racial or sexual bigotry or some other anti-social source – his repeated writings that all that’s needed to stop injustice is to stop committing injustice – these are not the judicial thoughts I want to hear from someone in his exalted position.

DOMA will probably go away. Prop 8 will likely be kicked back to the folks in California. But Chief Justice Roberts has a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. At his age – still in his 50′s – he will be there for many years to come. While his conservative legal history is to be admired, his seeming lack of understanding of the world around him is not.

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THE PLEDGE A solution in search of a problem? A bill now headed to the Oregon House floor would require that every classroom has to conduct a pledge of allegiance – though, per court decisions, students cannot be required to participate – and every one would have to maintain an American flag to salute. What exactly is the problem this is intended to counter?

WALDEN’S KERFLUFFLE Oregon Representative Greg Walden is in the U.S. House leadership and is even in charge of the caucus’ campaign committee, which might suggest he’s all but immune to intra-party conflict. But not so. A remark critical of cuts to Social Security increases, included in President Obama’s proposed budget, drew a sharp rebuke from House Speaker John Boehner and earned Walden a target on his back for the Club for Growth, which indicates it is encouraging a primary challenge for him. As with the Club’s targeting of similarly centrally-positioned Mike Simpson in Idaho, this seems like folly, though in-party battles often do have consequences one way or another.

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First Take

ridenbaugh Northwest

A review of the last Idaho legislative session from Idaho Democratic Chair Larry Kenck.

The 2013 Idaho Legislature exceeded expectations. By that measure, it succeeded. Unfortunately, our expectations are so low for this annual GOP-controlled event that we can call it a success if they don’t accidentally burn down the Capitol.

Let’s look at how they exceeded our expectations.

In December, Idaho’s wealthiest corporate interests had convinced everyone that a $140 million tax shift from big business to homeowners was a virtual certainty. Counties, cities, schools and Idaho Democrats crunched the numbers, rallied, and got the word out. In the end, small and medium-sized businesses saw their personal business property taxes cut without severely harming communities.

That was certainly better than we expected.

The Legislature also birthed a small group of Republicans who stood up to rightwing radicals who are still fighting the Affordable Care Act. This minority of the majority joined Idaho Democrats to help create a state-run health insurance exchange, benefiting consumers and giving Idaho control over insurance options.

That small triumph for moderation was unexpected.

Of course, we always expect some truly awful ideas to emerge from the GOP fringe. And, I suppose it’s fair to credit GOP leaders, along with Idaho Democrats, for killing some terrible legislation.

They fleeced a bill that would have made it illegal for sheepherders to quit their jobs. They beat back a bill that could have banned children from school if they got into fights. They shrugged off an effort to force all Idaho children to read Ayn Rand.

That legislation should have never showed up in the first place. It serves as an example of this Legislature meeting our low expectations. They didn’t surprise us on the big issues either.

When voters rejected the Luna Laws last fall, they failed to reject the guys who passed the laws in first place. So, it wasn’t altogether unexpected that those same GOP lawmakers would continue the assault on schools, teachers and students.

We also have never really believed GOP leaders who claim to save money. They showed their true nature by refusing to debate Medicaid expansion—a policy that would save counties a half a BILLION dollars and deliver health care to 105,000 men, women and children who cannot afford it.

And, we never expected the GOP Legislature to respect our way of life. When they demanded title of federal public lands in Idaho, they took a step toward selling of our heritage of hunting, fishing and hiking.

Who knows? Maybe the problem isn’t the Legislature. Maybe the problem is people like me. When we set expectations low, it doesn’t take much to meet them. If there’s no motivation to achieve excellence, then excellence only comes by chance. From here on out, I pledge to set my expectations high; and, when legislators fall short, I will do all I can to replace them with better people.

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Idaho Reading

THE ANTI-LEVY Revealing piece in the Vancouver Columbian about the source of a campaign against the Battle Ground school district’s regular levy: A retired Spokane tire dealer, with a couple of other residents of the city on the far side of the state. What he positions as a crippling tax increase is actually just a replacement for an already-existing levy, to be imposed at a lower rate than the old one. So many ballot issue campaigns degenerate to this.

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First Take